It’s no easy feat to go up against the lights and music of Southbank. But Ghost Donkey, the first Australian outpost of the US-based Mexican bar chain, is giving it a red-hot fairy-lit crack.

Located on the street level of Crown Melbourne (closer to the food court than the fine diners), the NYC-born Mexican bar – which has locations in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Denver in the United States, as well as in Auckland – has opened.

Its Southbank Promenade surrounds are, by design, a sensory whirlwind where street performers compete for attention against the intermittent pyrotechnics and other attractions. (Why does Southbank shoot fireballs into the sky?) Ghost Donkey makes no attempt to break this mould. If anything, it leans into it. And that’s a good thing.

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A booking here elicits thoughts like “Am I about to end up in the middle of a roaring hens’ night?” and flashbacks of previous Crown excursions. With fluttering fairy lights strung across the entire ceiling, it’s the kind of fun, over-the-top casino bar we’ve been waiting to come to Crown.

In the centre of the bar, the titular ghost donkey sits on a shrine-like podium, surrounded by flickering candles. Atop the donkey is another donkey. But this one is smaller and drinking a bottle of mezcal. The name refers to the heavy lifters of the mezcal-making process, but these donkeys have clocked off and are letting their manes down. And that’s exactly what anyone who goes to Ghost Donkey should be doing.

There are more than 35 mezcals and tequilas on the menu, which are served in handmade copitas and feature heavily across the cocktail list. The signature El Burro (designed for two) arrives on the table in a ceramic donkey cup garnished with flowers – it combines mezcal, Aperol, agave, lime, pink grapefruit and a kick of chilli. Plus, there’s a Mezcal Negroni with Aztec chocolate bitters and a “Mexpresso” Martini that swaps vodka for El Jimador tequila and some agave syrup.

The taco selection includes Baja kingfish tacos (with raw kingfish, ponzu, south-of-the-border slaw and sambal) and mole chicken soft-shell tacos (with Oaxacan mole negro and jalapeno). For nachos, choose from five options, including the wild mushroom with cotija (an aged Mexican cheese), poblano (a type of chilli pepper) salsa and chives, and a vegetarian sweet corn number topped with black garlic crema and cheese.

Plus, table snacks include a standout Mexican-style corn cob topped with lime mayo, pickled onion, pickled guindillas (chilli peppers), Aleppo pepper, red radish, cotija and coriander.

Ghost Donkey
Riverside at Crown (Near Clarendon Street), 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank
03 9292 5535

Wed & Thurs 4pm–11pm
Fri to Sun 4pm–midnight